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Higher Mitigation of Fines Due to Prompt Implementation of Measures Addressing Authority’s Concerns in Unfair Commercial Practices Investigations

In a decision published on 10 February 2017, imposing Samsung Electronics Italia S.p.A. (“Samsung”) fines totaling € 3.1 million for alleged aggressive unfair commercial practices, the Italian Competition Authority (the “Authority”) confirmed that the prompt implementation of measures aimed at addressing its concerns regarding alleged unfair commercial practices leads to a higher mitigation of the fine.

According to the Authority, Samsung would have: (i) provided consumers with incomplete and misleading information on the terms and conditions of the promotions; and (ii) forced consumers to provide their consent to the processing of their personal data for marketing purposes, as a condition to obtain the premiums related to the purchase of the product. In setting the amount of the fine, the Authority took into account the measures implemented by Samsung before and after the beginning of the proceeding. Indeed, in relation to the second allegation, the Authority considered the importance of the measures implemented before the opening of the proceeding and granted a significant reduction of the fine (25%). In relation to the first conduct, the Authority granted a lower reduction of the fine (15%), given that the measures aimed at addressing its concerns were adopted only after the opening of the investigation.

On 4 May 2016, the Authority opened the investigation following several complaints received from consumers and consumers’ associations. In particular, Samsung would have used claims aimed at promoting prize-giving events without providing consumers with all relevant information and using a font style, which would have been too small or difficult to read. The Authority also considered that the access to promotions’ rules in each point of sales or through the website was not sufficient in order to overcome this lack of information. Furthermore, as mentioned above, according to the Authority, Samsung would have forced consumers to provide their consent to the processing of personal data for purposes other than the ones necessary for obtaining the premium. During the proceeding, Samsung voluntarily submitted and implemented measures aimed at improving consumers’ awareness on the terms and conditions of the promotions. These measures included simplification of consumers’ involvement in prize-giving events, verification of consumers’ satisfaction, improvement of systems aimed at monitoring whether employees would effectively provide all the relevant information to consumers, streamline procedures for obtaining the premium, a more efficient handling of consumers’ complaints. Furthermore, Samsung also submitted that it had implemented other measures aimed at addressing the concerns related to the provision of the customers’ consent for the processing of their personal data. The Authority fined Samsung of € 3.1 million for alleged unfair commercial practices consisting of aggressive and misleading promotions related to the purchase of smartphone, smart TV and other Samsung’s products. However, in the calculation of the fine, the Authority acknowledged the relevance of the above mentioned measures granting a significant reduction of the applicable fine.

Gabriele Giunta (Trainee) contributed to this blog post.

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Unfair Commercial Practices – The Italian Competition Authority and The Italian Communication Authority Sign a Memorandum of Understanding

On 13 January 2017, the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) and the Italian Communication Authority (AGCOM) signed a memorandum of understanding concerning several aspects of their cooperation in the application of consumers’ protection rules. Under the memorandum of understanding, in the case of consumers’ protection matters, which potentially involve both authorities, there will be coordinated actions, even during the preliminary investigation phase. Furthermore, AGCM will inform AGCOM on cases concerning the violations of rules enforced by AGCOM, which will do the same in case of hypothesis of unfair commercial practices in the electronic communications sector. The authorities agreed also to set up a standing working group in order to promote the debate on consumer protection issues. Finally, the agreement provides rules on the exchange of information between the authorities on investigations.


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Activation of Premium Services, The Italian Competition Authority Fines Telepass for Unfair Commercial Practices

On 20 October 2016, the Italian Competition Authority (the “Authority”) fined Telepass of EUR 200,000 for alleged unfair commercial practices. According to the Authority, Telepass would have activated a premium service (premium option extra) to consumers, who activated the simple premium option, without their consent. In particular, Telepass would have adopted a mechanism based on the tacit consent of the consumers, giving them an opt-out option, which consisted in the exercise of the right of withdrawal within 60 days.

The main feature of this decision is the application by the Authority of Article 65 of the Italian Consumers Code. This provision was introduced with Legislative Decree no. 21/2014, implementing Directive 2011/83/EU on consumer rights. According to Article 65, “before the consumer is bound by the contract or offer, the trader shall seek the express consent of the consumer to any extra payment in addition to the remuneration agreed upon for the trader’s main contractual obligation. If the trader has not obtained the consumer’s express consent but has inferred it by using default options which the consumer is required to reject in order to avoid the additional payment, the consumer shall be entitled to reimbursement of this payment”. The aim of this provision is to ban the use of the opt-out mechanism in favor of the use of the opt-in mechanism. Therefore, the Authority fined Telepass and prohibited the continuation of the alleged conduct.

Gabriele Giunta contributed to this blog post.

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Liberalizations Decree: Main Relevant Changes and Powers of the Italian Competition Authority

by Veronica Pinotti and Martino Sforza

The main developments in antitrust are:

1. Merger Control (Art. 5-bis)

From January 1, 2013:

  • The Italian merger control thresholds will be cumulative and no longer alternative (i.e. the combined turnover in Italy of all undertakings concerned exceeds € 468 million AND the Italian turnover of the target exceeds € 47 million);
  • The current mandatory merger control filing fee (i.e. 1.2 percent of the value of the transaction in a range of € 3,000 and € 60,000) will be replaced by a mandatory fee of 0.08 per thousand of the turnover applicable (regardless of a transaction being filed) to all companies having a turnover exceeding € 50 million (such contribution shall be paid by October 30, 2012 for the first year, and July 31, 2013 for the following years).

2. New Bodies

  • Business Courts (Art. 2) – by September 24, 2012, the IP specialized sections of Italy’s Tribunals and Appeal Courts (renamed “business specialized sections”) will have jurisdiction also over all claims for damages caused by national and EU antitrust infringements, as well as corporate and public procurement matters involving limited companies.
  • Transport Authority (Art. 36) – it will be created within May 31, 2012 and will have supervising powers on the transport sector and the access to relevant infrastructures (it will be fully operative following the adoption of its implementing decrees).

3. Main New Powers of the Authority

  • Unfair clauses (Art. 5) – since March 24, 2012, the Authority is responsible to ensure protection against unfair contractual clauses in business to consumer agreements and it may impose fines up to € 50,000.
  • Unfair commercial practices (Art. 7) – since March 24, 2012, extension of the Authority’s powers in the enforcement of the unfair commercial practices rules to protect, not only consumers, but also small enterprises (with less than 10 employees and a turnover of less than € 2 million).
  • Food sector (Art. 62) – from October 25, 2012, the Authority will have the power to supervise and may apply fines up to € 500,000, in case of breach of the new rules concerning agreements in the food sector (i.e. written form and other specific requirements; obligation to pay within 30 days for perishable goods and within 60 days for all other goods).
  • Public Utilities (Art. 25) – since March 24, 2012, the Authority shall now be consulted in various fields, including the public utilities local award procedures (where the population is above 10,000 inhabitants).

4. Banks and Insurance

  • Banks (Art. 28) – from July 1,2012, banks shall propose to their customers the offers of at least two different insurance groups, if they require a life insurance as a condition to issue a mortgage.
  • Insurance (Art. 34) – no later than July 24, 2012, car insurance intermediaries will be required to inform their customers about the contractual conditions proposed by at least three different insurance groups.

5. Class Action (Art. 6)

Amendments to the current rules (entered [...]

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